Back Pain

Back Pain and Generalized Guarding

We all respond to pain or stress in a very specific way. And, that response is to tense up. It’s natural. It’s survival. It is the only way we have to protect ourselves. Imagine sitting at a red light in your car. All of a sudden you hear the squeal of tires behind you. What’s your response? Before you can even think about it you have already pulled your body inward as if to ward off a blow.

This is a natural reflex. It is hard-wired into us and is necessary for survival. But it can also work against us.

If we are stressed severely enough or in pain long enough we can make a habit of the response of tension. And, this is a big problem. Why, because constant tension causes PAIN. If you have any doubt about this, ball your hand into a fist. Now, hold it tight for an hour or so. I know you won’t do it: why, because it would hurt. Chronic tension in all cases causes chronics PAIN.

So, imagine someone who’s been startled many times. He now lives bent over, head forward, contorted and at the mercy of gravity. Don’t you think he is going to start hurting soon? Isn’t it probable that he will even have back pain?

Let me prove it to you; gently put yourself in this position for a few moments. Really, go ahead. I’m serious! Protrude you head forward, press your sternum down and walk around. If you do, you will feel how you could quickly create neck and back pain. And that is pain over and above any pain you may already have. OUCH!

What all this means is the way you guard against pain causes more PAIN. Of course it’s not done purposely. It’s not done consciously. IT’S AUTOMATIC!

Here’s the scenario; because you have back pain, you tense up, and because you tense up the more you have increased back pain. It’s called the Pain-Spasm-Pain Cycle. It is a well-organized pattern in those with back pain or and chronic pain issues. It is considered a self-sustaining injury because no outside stimulation is needed to keep the problem irritated. (Do not despair; good news is coming shortly.)

One gentleman I saw came to my office with his right shoulder lifted significantly higher then his left. He was complaining of shoulder pain and headaches. I thought to myself, “I guess you do hurt your all bent out of shape.” When I asked him what had happened he said nothing. He hadn’t been in any injuries. So, I asked what he did. “Oh, “ he replied, “I’m a barber.” Of course it all became clear. By holding his arm up cutting hair, the tension in his shoulder became habituated, that is it feels normal to be tense. Thomas Hanna called this sensory-motor amnesia. The person’s shoulder is tense, but he is unaware of it, except it hurts. NOT GOOD!

In this situation there is no real injury, but because of the tension there is definitely PAIN. It is very similar to many of us who are in pain for one reason and then posture ourselves unconsciously with muscle tension. As a result our PAIN goes up. It also means that our pain begins to spread to other areas unrelated to the original injury. Bummer! My thought is: if you’ve got to be in PAIN, at least confine it to where the injury is.

I once saw a woman who had arthritis in her lumbar spine. As a result she had back pain. Because of the back pain she began to tense her hips in response. By the time I met her she hurt all over. And do you know what she thought? She thought that it was all arthritis. She had been diagnosised with arthritis.

However, when we began to work together she began to feel better. It wasn’t all arthritis. It was tension that Hurt as bad as arthritis. So now she’s doing much better. Yes, she still has low back pain from the arthritis, but she doesn’t hurt all over. Big difference!


By soft tissue I mean the muscles, tendons and the connective tissue that run through the body. These structures can become inflamed, irritated, adhered, dehydrated, exhausted and compromised. In this condition these structures radiate pain that becomes all consuming. Most people (including physicians) have no idea the huge role soft tissue plays in chronic pain.


Just as your hand begins to hurt if you keep it in a tight fist, so it begins to feel better when you let it go. Once a person becomes aware of the tension they are holding and are shown how to let it go, they begin to feel better. It’s that simple. The body is designed to self-correct.

I hope it makes you feel better just knowing there is room to RELIEVE some PAIN. YEAH!

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